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Dubai: Most British tourists have no idea that this seemingly modern emirate gives even Western women few rights (credit: Saqib Khan)

Dubai, on the Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates, can appear to be a dream come true to holidaymakers, with its golden beaches, seven-star hotels and luxury shopping. But for Afsana Lachaux, a British woman who moved to Dubai in 2010, that dream turned into a nightmare. 

It was an easy choice for Afsana to move from East London to Dubai to start a new life with French aviation engineer Bruno Lachaux. Yet only a year later she found herself alone and in hiding, accused of kidnapping her own son by a sharia court.

"I left a deeply unhappy marriage and took my child away from a dreadful situation, but women are not supposed to do that in Dubai," says Afsana. "As punishment the courts branded me the criminal and took my son from me."

Her case highlights the appalling way that women are treated under sharia law, and the effective way in which Dubai has whitewashed its image in order to attract a huge influx of tourists.

Things started to go terribly wrong in her marriage to Lachaux after Afsana gave birth to their son Louis. While she was in hospital recovering from the birth, Lachaux applied for a French passport for Louis without Afsana's knowledge. Under French law, this process does not require the consent of the mother.

I met Afsana during her first visit to London in four years. She was visibly nervous, agitated and upset, pausing from telling me her story only to dry her tears. "My fate was sealed the day he got the passport because he hid it," she said. "It was never in the house."

When she left Lachaux in April 2011 she had no means of supporting herself or her son. Because she did not have Louis's passport she was unable to leave the country to return to her two adult sons in London. "I was frightened, sleeping on floors, lonely and abandoned."

Before meeting Lachaux, Afsana had devoted much of her working life to supporting women and their children who were suffering from domestic violence in her work at a specialist refuge and in housing services for women. When she first left Lachaux, Afsana agreed to him having contact with Louis, but things were fraught, and in March 2012, she claimed she was assaulted in public by her estranged husband during a contact visit. She reported the incident to the police but no action was taken. Immediately after the alleged incident Afsana went into hiding with Louis. What she did not realise was that, in her absence, Lachaux applied to the sharia court for divorce and for sole custody of Louis. He was granted both. He also filed a complaint of kidnapping against Afsana.

Under sharia law in the UAE, if 12 months have lapsed and the decision of the court has not been challenged, it is no longer appeal-able and is upheld. Sharia is available to all expats in Dubai, although most choose to use the system of their home country.

In October 2013 Lachaux snatched Louis from a play area while he was being looked after by a friend of Afsana. Under sharia he was perfectly entitled to do so, and the charges of kidnapping against Afsana remained.

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Billy Corr
July 19th, 2014
3:07 PM
If Afsana is MUSLIM and Bruno is CHRISTIAN, the marriage is almost certainly invalid. Julie Bindel, by the way, is one of the very few commentators who understands what happened to Charlene Downes in Blackpool.

July 11th, 2014
10:07 AM
Just like this, Sweden can be seen as a nightmare to men. In any case respect for local laws is a must. Dubai does not need to get its image straight simply because it does not need to appease the West and if it gets shunned,it will turn to China. We can do without interfering, nosey and condescending idiots. If you do not like us do not come to the country. Nobody needs you.

Malcolm McLean
June 22nd, 2014
9:06 PM
In one widely reported incident, a couple were being extremely intimate on a beach. A policeman saw them, told them that they were breaking the law, and asked them to desist. He then came back a few minutes later, found they were still engaged in intimate activities, and threw the book at them. It's hard to say he acted unreasonably. He tried to deal with the matter informally. Similarly, I think that any account from a person who worked in a British women's refuge, then claimed herself to be a victim of domestic violence, has got to be treated with suspicion. It's not clear what the truth is. But Dubai law doesn't allow a woman to unilaterally accuse her husband of domestic violence, or elevate a minor squabble into a major assault, then take custody of the children, without a court order. That doesn't strike me as unreasonable. Filipino maids are genuinely poorly treated in Dubai. Western expatriate women are not.

hegel`s advocate
June 3rd, 2014
1:06 PM
Ms Bindel`s review of Ken Loach`s new film says it`s "shite". It is. How `gay male` is Islam really? Sharia countries worship the phallus called Allah. Women are `beards` and slaves for sharia`s bearded men cults? Nobody wants a holiday with Isis or Loco Haram but a sharia holiday/business in Qatar or UAE ? Our Brit ministers and monarchy love them more than their own country. Compared to Winston Churchill Mr Cameron is a slice of ham with a 50p price tag. Fold it the right way and you have an arsehole.

Petra Buckley
May 29th, 2014
6:05 PM
What a grim picture of womens' rights, but not a surprise in that part of the world. Apparently, there are no "official figures" on rates of domestic violence,but these articles give a picture of the overall situation:

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